Hollywood’s bitter, monthslong labor dispute has taken a big first step toward a resolution.
The Writers Guild of America, which represents more than 11,000 screenwriters, reached a tentative deal on a new contract with entertainment companies on Sunday night, all but ending a 146-day strike that has contributed to a shutdown of television and film production.
In the coming days, guild members will vote on whether to accept the deal, which has much of what they had demanded, including increases in compensation for streaming content, concessions from studios on minimum staffing for television shows, and guarantees that artificial intelligence technology will not encroach on writers’ credits and compensation.
“We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional — with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership,” the Writers Guild’s negotiating committee said in an email to members.
Conspicuously not doing a victory lap was the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of studios. “The W.G.A. and A.M.P.T.P. have reached a tentative agreement” was its only comment.
For an industry upended by the streaming revolution, which the pandemic sped up, the tentative accord represents a meaningful step toward stabilization.
But much of Hollywood will remain at a standstill: Tens of thousands of actors remain on strike, and no talks between the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, and the studios were scheduled.
The only productions that could restart in short order would be ones without actors, like the late-night shows hosted by Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert and daytime talk shows hosted by Drew Barrymore and Jennifer Hudson.
The upshot: In addition to actors, more than 100,000 behind-the-scenes workers (directors, camera operators, publicists, makeup artists, prop makers, set dressers, lighting technicians, hairstylists, cinematographers) in Los Angeles and New York will continue to stand idle, many with mounting financial hardship. California’s economy alone has lost more than $5 billion from the Hollywood shutdown, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.
SAG-AFTRA has been on strike since July 14. Its demands exceed those of the Writers Guild and the studio alliance decided to prioritize talks with the Writers Guild, in part because of the hard line taken by Fran Drescher, the SAG-AFTRA’s leader. Among other things, the actors want 2 percent of the total revenue generated by streaming shows, something that studios have said is a nonstarter.
Even so, the deal with the Writers Guild could speed up negotiations with the actors’ union. Some of SAG-AFTRA’s concerns are similar to ones raised by the Writers Guild. Actors, for instance, worry that A.I. could be used to create digital replicas of their likenesses (or that performances could be digitally altered) without payment or approval.
The last sticking point between the Writers Guild and studios involved artificial intelligence. On Saturday, lawyers for the entertainment companies came up with language — a couple paragraphs inside a contract that runs hundreds of pages — that addressed a guild concern about A.I. and old scripts that studios own. The sides spent several hours on Sunday making additional tweaks.
The tentative deal came after several senior company leaders joined the talks directly — among them Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive; Donna Langley, chair of the NBCUniversal Studio Group; Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s co-chief executive; and David Zaslav, who runs Warner Bros. Discovery. Typically, talks took place between union negotiators and Carol Lombardini, who leads the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, an organization that bargains on behalf of the eight biggest Hollywood content companies.
Talks resumed on Wednesday after a hiatus of nearly a month, a period when each side insisted that the other was the one refusing to negotiate. Writers Guild leaders had come under intense pressure from some of its A-list members, including Ryan Murphy (“American Horror Story”), Kenya Barris (“black-ish”) and Noah Hawley (“Fargo”).
Showrunners like Mr. Murphy did not push Writers Guild leaders to take what was already on the table. Rather, they agitated for an immediate return to negotiations, and cited as a reason the increasing financial hardship on idled Hollywood workers.
Hollywood workers have taken more than $45 million in hardship withdrawals from the Motion Picture Industry Pension Plan since Sept. 1, according to a document compiled by plan administrators that was viewed by The New York Times. Mr. Murphy set up a financial assistance fund for idled workers on his shows and committed $500,000 as a starting amount. Within days, he had $10 million in requests.
Studios have also been hurting. This month, Warner Bros. Discovery said that the dual strikes would reduce its adjusted earnings for the year by $300 million to $500 million. The stock prices for Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery and Paramount Global have taken a hit. Analysts have estimated that studios will forgo as much as $1.6 billion in global ticket sales for movies that were initially scheduled for release this fall but pushed to next year because of the actors’ strike.
Negotiations between the studios and the writers began over six months ago. Union leaders repeatedly called the moment “existential,” arguing that the rise of streaming had worsened both compensation levels for writers as well as their working conditions.
Over the last decade, the number of episodes for television series went down from the old broadcast network standard of more than 20 per season to as little as six or seven. Writers Guild officials said that fewer episodes often translated to lower income for writers, and left them scrambling to find multiple jobs in a year.
The writers also took particular aim at so-called minirooms, a streaming-era innovation where fewer writers were hired to help conceive of a show, and they were frequently paid less.
Putting guardrails around the use of artificial intelligence was an issue of some significance when negotiations began in late March, but it took on greater urgency to members as bargaining — and the strike — wore on.
Prominent members of the Writers Guild had framed the strike as being about something loftier than Hollywood — they were taking a stand, they argued, against the evils of capitalism. Some of that sentiment peppered the reaction to the denouement. In a post late Sunday on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, Billy Ray, whose credits include “Captain Phillips” and “Shattered Glass,” encouraged fellow writers to “stand with the actors” and workers everywhere. “That’s how we’ll save America.”
The strike was one of the longest in the history of the Writers Guild. The last time writers and actors were both on strike at the same time was in 1960.
With a tentative deal in hand, the Writers Guild suspended picketing. The union, however, encouraged members to join the striking actors’ picket lines, which will begin again on Tuesday.